For "Currents 99" the artist will create an installation of photographs from a larger project entitled True North that reconsiders the genre of the sublime in depictions of polar expeditions through the lenses of mythology and fiction. The project was inspired in part by the story of Matthew Henson, an African-American who accompanied the white U.S. explorer Robert E. Peary on several expeditions.
Renowned British artist Isaac Julien is interested in representation, aesthetics, and politics in film and photography. His work has long been celebrated in Europe for its theoretical sophistication, lush sensuality, intelligence, wit, and emotional complexity. For Currents 99: Isaac Julien, the artist’s first solo exhibition in St. Louis, he will create an installation of photographs from a larger project entitled True North.
True North reconsiders the genre of the sublime in depictions of polar expeditions through the lenses of mythology and fiction. The project was inspired in part by the story of Matthew Henson, an African-American who accompanied the white U.S. explorer Robert E. Peary on several expeditions, including one on which they were believed to have discovered the North Pole. True North has been realized variously as three-screen, two-screen, and single-screen projections (each shot in 16-mm film transferred to DVD with an accompanying soundtrack). True North has also been realized as a series of one-meter square color photographs, some conceived as single images and others presented as diptychs or triptychs. These images, which feature a small, recurring cast of characters in a wintry landscape, suggest a narrative, but a narrative in which meaning shifts with each new iteration and context. The photographs were made before the film and do not serve the subordinate function typic al of film stills; rather, they may be exhibited in tandem with the film, or independently. When asked to discuss the relationship between the True North photographs and film, Julien commented, “they perform differently; when you make filmic images they are fleeting, whereas in photography you concentrate on a suspended moment in time."
Julien’s recombination of the True North images in the various iterations of the work and his refusal to offer a single, climactic conclusion to the overall project make the viewer an active participant in the way that the meaning of the work is constructed. Foregrounding the importance of the viewer is both an aesthetic and political act on the part of the artist, in whose practice these two approaches are inextricably linked.
Isaac Julien (British, born 1960) lives and works in London. He earned a B.A. in Fine Art Film at Central St. Martin’s School of Art in London, and completed graduate studies at Les Entrepreneurs de L’Audiovisuel Européen (EAVE) in Brussels. His extensive list of solo exhibitions includes projects at the following museums: MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Laboratory of Art and Ideas, Denver; The Studio Museum, Harlem; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal.
Currents 99: Isaac Julien is part of a series of exhibitions featuring the work of contemporary artists at the Saint Louis Art Museum. This exhibition was curated by Robin Clark, associate curator of contemporary art.
Opening Lecture, Screening, and Preview: December 14, 2006, 7:00 pm
Conversation with the Artist and Screening: February 15, 2007, 7:00 pm
Saint Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park - St. Louis